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A shift in the message: non-actualized teasing

The second deictic shift, featuring an alteration in the message, is more complicated than the previous one. In order to fully comprehend the mechanism behind these teasing instances, we first look at a prime example from The Nanny. The excerpt starts with a grateful Mr. Sheffield (Maxwell), who thanks Fran for convincing him to hire the infamous actor Jack (lines 01 and 02). Unfortunately, the plan to hire Jack was entirely CC’s idea, who now is enraged from frustration. She furiously asks what she has to do to please anyone (line 05), at which point Niles is on the verge of teasing her for this rather suggestive utterance. Mr. Sheffield, however, but also the audience, knows Niles well enough (based on personal common ground) to see in advance that a teasing instance is coming, and inhibits Niles from uttering it. Niles metaphorically argues against Maxwell’s reprimand (lines 08 and 09), but Maxwell sticks to his guns. The fragment ends with Niles squirting lemon juice into CC’s eyes.

  • (4) TNN/002/012/GAMMA-001
  • 01 Mr. Sheffield < no miss fine i want to THANK you;
  • 02 (-) for CONVINCING ME to HIRE JACK;>
  • 03 CC < ^maxwell?
  • 04 THAT was MY ID^EA;
  • 05 WHAT do I have to do to ^PLEASE anyone around this house,>
  • 06 Niles ((opens mouth, on the verge of saying something))
  • 07 Mr. Sheffield niles-
  • 08 Niles but sir;
  • 09 FISH gotta ^SWIM;
  • 10 Mr. Sheffield conTROL yourself man,=
  • 11 Niles =o very well sir;
  • 12 CC (-) hehehehehe::
  • 13 Niles lemon,
  • 14 ((squirts lemon in CC’s eye))

The core of teasing instances like (4) is the observation that the planned teasing instance is being prohibited from becoming an actual teasing instance. Because CC’s set-up in line 05 is remarkably suggestive and Niles and CC have a typical, deeply-rooted customary teasing relationship (Norrick 1993), Maxwell is perfectly able to both predict Niles’ teasing instance and stop him in advance. In other words, Maxwell ‘saw him coming’, but chose to protect CC from again being the target of Niles’ teasing instance.

Although Niles does not verbally express his teasing line, the intended teasing instance would have hinged on the exploitation of the illocutionary value of CC’s question in line 5. Whereas CC intends this question as a rhetorical question, Niles is signaling that he would very much like to answer this as if it were a sincere informative question. The fact that the teasing instance remains unsaid but nevertheless is identified and appreciated as such demonstrates the impact of mutually assumed common ground among interlocutors, characters, audience etc.

Of particular interest in the present context is the question whether it is correct to speak of a genuine teaser, even a vaguely present one, when there is no verbally coded teasing taking place. Even without an explicit teasing instance, the intended teasing can be safely inferred by characters or an audience on the basis of the well-established common ground about the customary teasing relationship between Niles and CC. Additionally, the contextual fact that Maxwell stops Niles and the fact that Niles defends himself both yield the conclusion that Niles was on the verge of uttering a teasing instance. This observation supports that we are not dealing with an overt teaser, but rather with an intended teaser.

 
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